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3 August, 2020

Little Egypt in North Queensland

Federal, State and local dignitaries joined the community of El Arish on Saturday to mark the 100 Year Anniversary ‘From War Horse to Plough Horse’ at its new cenotaph, followed by a BBQ luncheon at the RSL Memorial Hall.

Unveiling a plaque to commemorate the milestone was His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland; another by Mr. Paul Martin, the son of Francis Paxton Martin who was the original Superintendent of the Settlement, and to whom the town’s name of El Arish can be attributed after its former title of the “Maria Creek Soldier Settlement”.

Commissioned by the town to mark the occasion was an impressive rising sun sculpture forged by local blacksmith Brent Cook which was unveiled at the cenotaph by Member for Kennedy, Hon. Bob Katter MP and Member for Hill, Mr. Shane Knuth MP.

Students of El Arish State School delighted guests by singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ which the Governor declared to be the most ‘beguiling’ rendition he’d ever heard.

El Arish was settled in 1920 as a product of the Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act when ballots of land were made available to Australia’s returning soldiers from World War One.  The returned soldiers embarked on a prolific sugar cane industry which saw the town flourish throughout the 20th Century.

Named in commemoration of the taking of ‘El Arish’ in [then] Palestine [now Egypt] during World War One, this legendary victory tells the story of General Sir Harry Chauvel and the 6th Australian Light Horse encircling the town at dawn.  Two Turkish soldiers guarding the post immediately surrendered and El Arish went on to become a strategic watering place and hospital town for Australians on the advance to Damascus.  

Cassowary Coast Mayor, Cr Mark Nolan joined the community to celebrate the centenary.

“From War Horse to Plough Horse, El Arish is a standing tribute to our pioneering history, a town borne by soldiers returning from World War One who went on to build a thriving local community through sugar cane farming.

“It’s a proud jewel of our Cassowary Coast region and we congratulate the community members who have ensured that the town’s pride and history has been preserved throughout the generations.

“The origin of El Arish’s name is little known to Australians, however this commemoration offers an opportunity to share the important story of an Egyptian township which played a pivotal role in saving soldiers during World War One.” 

In 2020, El Arish is a quaint town with strong community ties to its original settlement, now home to around 350 residents and featuring a school, a pub and butcher shop and a local convenience store and post office.  The village proudly displays its history at the original railway station on Chauvel Street called the ‘El Arish Diggers Museum’ which houses a unique collection for public viewing.

The refurbished cenotaph was proudly supported by funds from the Queensland Government in partnership with the Cassowary Coast Regional Council.

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